Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Tag Archives: Gantt chart

How do I communicate project schedule?

I asked some of my colleagues about their impression of the project management discipline. One comment that was near universal was the impression that Project Managers are unnecessarily wedded to their Gantt charts. Having given it some thought, I tend to agree. Project management is a discipline that is used to deliver business outcomes in a predictable nature. Project management in itself is not the deliverable. Therefore, visibility in the project team shouldn’t be the various project management artefacts.

That got me thinking … what do we use Gantt charts for? It helps us establish order of tasks, assignments, critical path, identify slack etc. Well and good. Now the project manager has a good understanding of the tolerances afforded to him within the project, in terms of time. Now what? The Project Manager is interested in the entire picture. Not all the teams involved in delivering the output of the project is interested in the whole picture. they want to know their schedule and an overall picture of the project. How do we give such an overview picture without too much extra work?

TimelineThe key here is to understand your stakeholders and what each one needs or is interested in from the Project Manager. Most stakeholders need to understand the overall timeline and workstreams for their teams and those around them. I have found the Timeline feature in MS Project 2010 to be particularly helpful for this. You can create a timeline with the required level of detail straight from your Gantt chart. This is a more simplified view of the project and may be quite a good tool for many of your stakeholders.

High level project sponsors are unlikely to be interested in the actual timelines. Their concern probably begins and ends with your expected delivery dates and cost profile. Gantt chart is a total turn off at that level. Think about using something like Earned Value Analysis technique to show your progress and likely final cost and completion date. That is likely to get a more to the point feedback, than Gantt chart. Think about an IT project that is geared towards achieving some business efficiencies in a billing system. Your CEO is less likely to want to know about building of virtual servers than if the final date and cost is still under control.

This is not to say that the Gantt chart is not the tool to communicate schedule related matters with anyone. You need to use this to communicate the individual tasks for various teams and to give an understanding of dependencies. Just becasue you need to use the Gantt chart, do not be shy about using only parts of it relevant to the different teams to get your message across.

I will be paying more attention to what each of my teams are after to adjust my communication style in future.

Why do I need Project Managers?

I had intended to write the post about the value of establishing a Programme Management Office (PMO). It then occurred to me that implementing PMO implies there is a level of maturity and value of project management is accepted. However, there are plenty cases where project management is either not practised or if practised, done more as a begrudging necessary evil than something that provides a value to the business or to the client.

This got me thinking. As a project management professional, what can I point to as value provided by my chosen discipline? More people today pursue project management certification than ever before. Both PMI and The Stationary Office through APMG are making a killing on this. But does that guarantee success? From a sceptic’s point of view, one can argue why bother having a Project Manager. They are not managing children. They’re dealing with grown men, in most cases very skilful ones. Why not simply let them get on with it?

First argument for having project management included in your project is to ensure efficient planning and execution. You will need ensure you have appropriately estimated the work, created a schedule, line up the resources at the correct times, control costs and report to the appropriate body in the organisation. One can argue that a Project Manager actually does not do the estimates. It is your delivery staff that do that. Is the Project Manager simply not recycling that, adding a bit of fat and keeping themselves in a job? Could your secretary not do that? After all, how difficult is it to make Gantt charts?

These are entirely valid arguments. Many organisations use their project managers in a work distributor role only. This is where they tend to go wrong. Project management is much more than shovelling work around to minions. Monitoring and control is a key part of a Project Manager’s role. Unless you are Nostradamus, not everything will go to plan. This is where a true Project Manager earns his money, by adjusting within tolerances afforded to him, or passing up the chain if a decision is required at that level. They plan risk and issue management and monitor these actively and implement the appropriate actions if they materialise. Many a project go wrong without good scope control. While this may be an unenviable job, this is absolutely necessary if you want projects coming on time within budget.

An often understated part of a Project Manager’s role is leading the project. If you want to see the effect of leadership, or lack thereof, a study of the New Zealand political scene is a must. The National Party, routed under the leadership of Bill English not too long ago, now sits with a comfortable majority in Parliament and are odds on to be re-elected under John Key, with English his deputy. At the same time, the NZ Labour party, after three successful terms under Helen Clark, struggles to be an effective political force under Phil Goff. If you reviewed the political manifesto for either party, you would have struggled to distinguish between them. A Project Manager with personality and character has the same effect.

The organisation has to decide what their mode of operation is. Is it one that treats Project Managers in a shovelling work capacity, then likelihood is they view it as a cost to the project. In a services context, they allow their customers to easily talk them out of this necessary skill when push comes to shove about pricing. These are usually the projects that end up costing money, since the effort to deliver them with the necessary quality was underestimated to begin with, risks are not attended to in time and need for adjustments are picked up too late to be effective. Organisations that value project management skills as a necessary component that adds value by ensuring a quality delivery and build capability in this area are the ones that usually reap the benefits.

You deserve the project you get. Is this being too simplistic? Let me know.

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